The Willett Distillery in Bardstown, Ky., is the newest member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, making it the 14th member and the eighth craft distiller to join.
Willett has a long history in Kentucky distilling, although not all of it has been conducted under that name. Willett Distilling Company was built in 1936 on the outskirts of Bardstown on a farm purchased by Lambert Willett. The distillery was operated by Lambert and his sons, particularly A.L. “Thompson” Willett, who at one point was the president of the KDA.
The Willett brothers retired in the early 1980s. In 1984, the distillery was purchased by Even G. Kulsveen, who had married Thompson Willett’s daughter, Martha. He changed the name of the company to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. The company first made bourbon using barrels that remained from the Willett production days, then bought barrels from other distilleries to create new products. You may not be familiar with the company name, but if you’re a bourbon aficionado, chances are good you’ve sampled some of its brands, among them Johnny Drum, Old Bardstown, Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Kentucky Vintage and Willett Pot Still Reserve.
In January of this year, Even Kulsveen rechristened the property once again, to Willett Distillery, and he and his family are once again distilling on site.
Under the KDA’s bylaws, craft membership is open to those distillers who have fewer than 25,000 barrels in inventory. The other craft distillery members are Alltech’s Town Branch Distillery, Barrel House Distilling Co., Corsair Artisan Distillery, Limestone Branch Distillery, MB Roland Distillery, The Old Pogue
Distillery and Silver Trail Distillery.